Chapter 2: Pre-service teaching – how to develop your teaching skills
So you are just starting out on your journey to become a teacher. Congratulations. As peace activist Helen Caldicott put it, teachers “are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.” No pressure though.
What is the magic formula that will allow you to go from an inexperienced pre-service teacher to a wily veteran? It boils down to seven things.
- Learn by doing. We all remember that assignment in school where we actually did something useful and perhaps tangible. I remember mine. I was in a group with two others and our task was to research a particular biome (a region of the world that has similar climate, plants and animals, e.g., deserts) and create a presentation as well as a physical model, which we would use as a visual for the class. Ours was the Boreal Forest biome. After some research, we created a wooden structure of a mountain, packed on some plasticine, and painted that bad boy. Then we got some evergreen tree twigs and stuck them in the plasticine (these, of course, were our mountain trees). However, we weren’t done yet. Lastly, we got some help from my dad who instructed us on how to make a mountain stream using a fish tank filter and pump. This was really cool. But best of all, I still remember what it looked like many years later. I learned by doing and that’s the key to success both as a student and as a teacher.
As a pre-service teacher, you also need to learn by doing: get right in there and experience what it’s like to be a teacher. TEACH! A few years ago, I was in a department in which one of my colleagues was assigned a new student teacher. Now my colleague didn’t want to pressure this young woman who was afraid of jumping in with two feet. She wanted to observe. So she did—for three weeks. There’s a time for watching and a time for doing. Spend a day observing and then just do it. If you’re in a high school, don’t take on a full course load, but you should be able to carry a single class on a day-to-day basis. Make your own lessons, quizzes and tests. Jump in with two feet; the water’s fine.
- Work closely with your mentor teacher. At the start of your practicum, you should be reviewing each lesson and assessment with him or her to ensure that you are meeting certain standards. But aside from that, your mentor teacher has the experience that is so important. In fact, it takes experience to understand fully just how important experience truly is.
- Try stuff! You need to keep trying new things. If you have a great idea, run it by your mentor teacher. If you’ve been given free rein, give it a go. Some of the best things I’ve done in my classroom have been things I either thought of on the day itself or even right on the spot. Worst-case scenario, it doesn’t work but at least you’ve tried. You will never do anything great unless you try.
- Reflect, reflect and reflect. Once that is done, reflect again. Think about everything you messed up, why it didn’t work, and what you could have done differently. Did your lesson end early and you didn’t have anything to fill the remaining time? Did your students have a poor behavior day, which you couldn’t get under control? Also, you need to think about what went well, why it went well, and what you could do next time to do even better. For example: That activity was amazing, but next time I’ll use groups of two instead of three so that more people are always involved.
- Videotape your lessons. It’s like analyzing your golf swing: videotaping is the only way to truly see the way you deliver your content and interact with your students. If you are bored while watching, chances are, they were even more so.
- Be prepared. Make sure you know your content. It’s very easy to think you know everything after leaving University. I thought I did. I remember one embarrassing incident while teaching chemistry when I started talking about bond types. I stated that molecular bonds were stronger than ionic bonds, which they aren’t. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I looked like a fool when my less-than-tactful mentor teacher pointed this out in front of the whole class. In addition, knowing your content inside-out allows you to seem confident and confidence is half the battle. Know your stuff!
- Remember that every day is a new beginning. If you struggled with something yesterday, you have the opportunity to learn from it and grow. Your first year teaching is when you will be tested emotionally, physically, and mentally. If you have a bad day, reflect on it, and then forget it and move on.